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America's soaring prison population is separated from the outside world by the Concertina, the rigid spirals of razor wire that top the high chain-link fences of state and federal penitentiaries. For nearly two decades, educator Jan Walker crossed this line at medium and maximum correctional facilities to teach adult felons who had committed such crimes as murder, rape, assault, drug-related offenses, and child sexual abuse. In this beautifully crafted and moving memoir, Walker takes the reader inside the Concertina, offering a window on the unique rhythms of living and working in the isolated and harsh prison environment. She shares her striking experiences as a correctional teacher of innovative parenting and family courses, including a controversial class on how to parent from a distance, and as the coordinator of a pioneering program on personal and social responsibility. In stirring and intimate prose, Walker weaves together the true stories of male and female inmates with reflections on her own life and career to reveal the challenges, rewards, and emotional toll of her work. Through Walker's eyes, one sees her students not as hardened criminals, but as human beings struggling to survive behind bars, to reconsider their choices and behavior, to learn new skills, and to reconnect with their children. Walker's profound commitment to helping offenders rebuild their lives, as well as to preparing them for the return home to their families and communities, is evident as she relates how she coped with political and philosophical turmoil in the prison system, confrontational attitude from both inmates and corrections officers, moments of despair and doubt, and encounters with tough-on-crime taxpayers who berated her for wasting public monies to teach "scumbags, street rats, human garbage." At a time when budget cuts threaten programs such as those taught by Walker, the dramatic break-through stories in this honest yet compassionate account show that education does make a difference in a prisoner's rehabilitation and successful reintegration in society.
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